Astros' top pick Gilbert focused: 'I'm ready to play'

Day 1 also nets 'enticing' OF Melton (No. 64) and Taylor (No. 80), RHP with 'hoppy' fastball

July 18th, 2022

HOUSTON -- A two-way player when he arrived for his freshman season at the University of Tennessee, Drew Gilbert made the transition to center field prior to his sophomore year with great success. He has no plans on becoming the next Shohei Ohtani, though he joked he’d consider it if it would help his team win.

“If they need me to get on the mound, I’ll do my best,” he said.

Gilbert’s competitiveness, defense and his bat -- and not his pitching ability -- were the factors that prompted the Astros to select Gilbert with the No. 28 overall pick in the MLB Draft on Sunday. A 5-foot-9 left-handed hitter, Gilbert hit .362 with 21 doubles, four triples, 11 homers and 71 RBIs in 58 games this year, with more walks (33) than strikeouts (32).

“I feel like I kind of came in as a freshman and was more of a pitcher,” Gilbert said. “As I got more reps as a position player, it [plate discipline] developed in a sense. … There’s a lot of things that went into it and a lot of people helped me develop and it took a lot of hard work. If I didn’t have the people around me at Tennessee, I would not be where I am now.”

The Astros also selected Oregon State outfielder Jacob Melton in the second round (No. 64 overall) and Central Michigan right-hander Andrew Taylor (No. 80 overall) with the compensation pick for losing Carlos Correa in free agency.

Gilbert’s terrific junior season at Tennessee earned him the 2022 Southeastern Conference Tournament Most Valuable Player and a spot on the SEC All-Defensive team, as well as NCBWA first-team All-American honors. He batted cleanup for Tennessee, which was the No. 1 team in the nation for much of this season.

“Long-term outlook, we view him as a plus defender, a table-setter-type,” Astros scouting director Kris Gross said. “He had a heck of a year at Tennessee. He showed power, made a ton of contact. He’s toned down his approach, he’s walking a lot this year. There’s a lot to like with the bat and the instincts and the leadership. The performance over the last three years we deemed pretty special, and we’re excited to get him in the first round.”

Gilbert, 21, said he had a Zoom meeting with the Astros a week ago, among a few other conversations, but otherwise didn’t have a lot of contact with the club.

“I was pretty excited when I heard my name called,” he said. “The Astros are a great organization and I’m ready to play. There’s a lot of excitement, for sure. I’m as happy as I’ve ever been.”

Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said on MLB Network that Gilbert helped changed the culture in Knoxville.

“A loud personality on the field because he wants to win so much, but I can’t describe to people how he changed my life when he got to our program,” he said. “He does things in the locker room and the dugout that are very tough to describe, especially in a short amount of time. Literally, changed the way the program operates, thinks, competes, works. I think he’s going to do that at the big league level, too, but he’s going to have to establish himself.”

The signing bonus for the 28th pick in the Draft is $2,620,400, and Gilbert said he has “no idea” how quickly he could get to the big leagues.

“Who doesn’t want to be in the big leagues as quickly as possible?” he said. “Obviously, there’s a bunch of steps you have to go through to get there. It’s a day-by-day process, and you try to get better every day and see what happens from there.”

The Astros have nine outfielders in their Top 30 prospect rankings according to MLB Pipeline, including Colin Barber (No. 5), Tyler Whitaker (No. 10), Jordan Brewer (No. 19), Alex McKenna (No. 20) and Matthew Barefoot (No. 21). All of them have played all three outfield spots in the Minor Leagues.

“For me, the only thing I care about is winning,” Gilbert said. “I could give a crap less about individual stats. The only thing I care about is winning and my teammates.”

Melton brings power, speed

Melton, a 6-foot-3 left-handed-hitting outfielder, was the Pac-12 Player of the Year last season. He hit .360 with 17 homers and 83 RBIs in 63 games (26 walks and 51 strikeouts). He was the 39th-ranked draft prospect by

“To have the opportunity to jump into the Astros organization, it really couldn’t mean more to me,” Melton said. “They have a great track record in player development. It’s the best in baseball and I’m beyond excited to have the opportunity to jump in and hopefully make an impact.”

Gross said Melton is a little bit bigger version of Gilbert, and the plan is for both to remain in center field.

“The thing that stands out about Melton is the power in the bat,” he said. “He can hit them out in all directions. He steals bags. It’s a very enticing physical package with an idea of what he’s doing at the plate, and we’re excited for what he might be able to become.”

Taylor has swing-and-miss stuff

Taylor, who stands 6-foot-5 with a fastball that touches 94 mph, went 8-4 with a 3.21 ERA in 17 games (15 starts) for Central Michigan last season. He had a program-record 126 strikeouts and 27 walks in 84 innings. He was the 156th-ranked draft prospect by

“He can run it up to 94; I’ve seen 95,” Gross said. “It’s a very hoppy fastball, gets a lot of swings and misses. Two average breaking balls to work with and the kid throws a ton of strikes. He’s big, he’s athletic. I think we can work with him and develop him into a Major League starter.”

Taylor is looking forward to tapping into the Astros’ reputation for making pitchers better through analytics, something he says he doesn’t yet know too much about. He sees his fastball -- which he calls an “invisiball,” similar to Astros right-hander Cristian Javier -- being his best weapon.

“I like to work it down in the zone, but up in the zone is where I get a lot more swings and misses,” Taylor said. “I hide it behind me when I’m throwing and it comes out nice and effortless from a high angle and it rides really well and spins at a high clip.”

The Draft resumes at 1 p.m. CT today with rounds 3-10.